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December 2014

La Luna and her Moonbeam

On our last night at sea, I had the 1800 to midnight watch -- the watch with the moon. It was so lovely, that I got my notebook out and wrote under the stars.

"We are sailing on a moonbeam of brilliant light from a wisp of a La Luna moon, a curved sliver of moon that still somehow creates an impossibly brilliant night. Except for the moon, the stars, and La Luna's sails it is a grey night. The sea is a darker grey than the paler sky. We are reaching, powered by the wind and pushed a bit by lovely swells, so it's a quiet sail. It is our last night at sea and this is the longest time I've spent voyaging -- 26 days by the time we finish.

They have not been easy days. But tonight ... tonight we have gentle ocean swells, lifting La Luna and moving her forward along the path of the moon. Tonight we have stars and constellations. We have a boat at sea and a star to steer her by. But I'm not steering and Casey, the auto-pilot doesn't need that star, he corrects our course during every swell, ignoring the moonbeam and stars. It is a beautiful night at sea. I do like this. I do.

I can imagine sailors from long ago -- or even 40 or 50 years ago -- noting the beauty of the stars and the moon, but also using them to steer their course. We have electronic and mechanical gear that some of them couldn't dream of. Mostly that's a blessing, but sometimes the blessing is mixed. Our navigation software tells us how many miles we have left and how long it will take to reach our goal. For the past 25 days, time is measured in Days:Hours:Minutes. This number is finite only for that one moment in time. X Days:Y Hours:Z Minutes from this point to that point at this speed. When the boat slows or quickens, the Days:Hours:Minutes change. I have left a watch confident that we have 10 Days:13 Hours:8 Minutes left in our trip, and then take the next watch 6 hours later to find that we now have 11 Days:4 Hours:43 Minutes left to go.

Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. During the last week or so we stopped leaving the laptop on, instead relying on the GPS for our coordinates and the VHF for AIS information regarding nearby boats. We realized that we didn't have to have a visual on our exact location every quarter hour, and didn't need to know the system's estimate of our completion time at every moment. We were at sea and we would remain at sea until we were done. Still, once or twice a shift I would fire up the laptop just to see the numbers. 8 Days:23 Hours:4 Minutes. In reality, I also checked our location and our course, like a good navigator, but I really wanted to see the numbers. 6 Days:17 Hours:23 Minutes.

As we neared Guadeloupe I began to plot and plan our arrival time. If we reached our mark too late in the day we would have to wait until daylight to enter the harbor, which was 20 miles from that first mark, or 4-5 hours of being "at sea" in sight of land. On our last night at sea, during my shift, I saw 0 Days:14 Hours:12 Minutes, and figured that we would be anchored in early afternoon."

In reality, the wind abated in the morning, and we once again eeked our way along the course. I adjusted the course, heading closer to shore and saving about 2-3 miles of distance traveled, and we anchored just before dark, eerily close to the mark I had made when I had plotted the course in Graciosa. We had crossed the Atlantic twice in one year. We dined on cheese that had survived without refrigeration, shrimp spread on crackers, and smoked oysters. For roughage, we enjoyed rum and pineapple juice with canned pineapple and mandarin oranges. We celebrated quietly and went to bed early, sleeping for over seven hours at a stretch for the first time in 26 days.

Good-night, Moon.

And thanks.

Just so you know, we are anchored at North 16 Degrees 12.30 Minutes and West 61 Degrees 32.46 Minutes. You can now reach us on G-Mail. Well, you can when we are in shore.

The Endurance Crossing Continues

The 27th of December was a beautiful day. During my watch at midday, I enjoyed swell swells (yet another thing that has been lacking during this crossing), rolling up and under the boat in a calming rhythmic motion. EW sat on the settee down below, playing guitar and singing. This was how cruising was supposed to be. Almost.

For breakfast, I had made yet another hoebread, this one with oatmeal, served with peanut butter, and we each had a cup of tea. Heating water for tea uses much less butane than making coffee. EW had enjoyed a cup of tea on the early morning watch, and offered to make me a second cup after breakfast. He heated my water, and the butane ran out.

Of course.

In the meantime, EW had been delighted to inform me over breakfast that he had discovered a feature in the iPad navigational program that allowed him to enter a reciprocal course automatically. "See," he said, showing me the iPad, "here's our course and this pushpin shows the the reciprocal." I was less than impressed (though to be truthful, I can actually see why this could be very useful) and asked him why he thought going backwards right now would be a good thing. He didn't have an answer for that. I continued by saying that I wasn't going backwards for any reason whatsoever, concluding with, "As a matter of fact, if you were to fall overboard and I had to reverse direction to save you . . . I might not." He was speechless. "Although, if you could swim fast enough to catch up, I would help you get aboard. We are not going backwards."

I was still thinking about provisions, no butane, and no cold anything and one or two more nights on the boat. That was when I finally realized how clueless I had been in Tenerife: Even though I had tried to get the butane refilled in Graciosa, I had totally forgotten to do so in Tenerife, where it would been a simple matter -- despite making a huge (for boat life) Thanksgiving dinner including pie. Most of the problems with this trip have no blame, but the lack of butane is totally my bad.

We had 103 miles to go and figured we would be able to anchor in Pointe A Pitre harbor on the 28th. That would leave us with at least one lupper and another breakfast with no butane. Dinner on Saturday was supposed to be canned corned beef hash and a side of veggies with tinned fruit for "pudding". There would be no tea or hoecake for breakfast. As has been my practice during this butane/fridge emergency, I have informed EW of the "menu" for each meal well in advance. "For breakfast tomorrow we'll have drained tinned fruit with chopped nuts, appricots, and dates, topped with muesli." "That sounds good," said EW. "For lupper today we'll have a bean salad unless you want to eat cold corned beef hash like a cowboy." He frowned at that, and I continued with the theme, "If you opt for the hash, just eat it out of the can. Maybe we can make a fake campfire in the cockpit for ambiance. And really, if you're going to go that far, don't bother with a spoon. Just use this knife," pointing to the vicious folding knife we keep in the cockpit for emergencies. At this point I was laughing so hard I couldn't have heard his reply -- if he had offered one.

A few minutes later he went below, returning with our magnifying glass and a slip of paper. He sat in the cockpit, seemingly trying to view something on the paper. "What are you doing?" I finally asked. "Seeing if I can start a fire so I can heat my hash."

We're good. And yes, I would go back to pick EW up if he fell overboard.

We had bean salad with a side of beets, and the fruit mixture this morning was good enough for a breakfast when we we have all systems going.

Update. It's 7:20 LLT and Caribbean time -- which is where we are. Anchored in Guadeloupe. More tomorrow about our last day at sea! Cheers all! The Endurance Crossing has been completed.

Three Things

Back to being thankful, but first -- I hope all who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful Christmas day, filled with food, family, friends, and presents from the heart. And I hope that all for whom December 25 is just another day that you too had a wonderful day -- visiting with Christmas revelers, or spending the day doing exactly as you wished, perhaps with food, family, friends, and presence with your heart's desire.

Three things for which I am thankful:

1. Grog. EW, formerly known as Captain Bligh, has a no alcohol rule under way. It's actually a good rule and one for which I'd never stage a mutiny. During one of the conversations on our SSB radio crossing net, the subject of alcohol came up; some boats had the same rule as we have aboard "La Luna", while others are a bit more flexible. "Hobnob" celebrated their halfway point with Gin and Tonics, and enjoyed a glass of Mediera with their Christmas dinner. As promised, we used up precious butane to make coffee, and to heat milk which was then whipped up to bubbles. The captain got into the holiday spirit by offering up a tot of rum in our coffee con leche. Merry, Merry Christmas!

2. Wind. Wind from just the right direction. We started Christmas Day with rain storms - no lightening and no heavy winds - just rain. Some dodged us, and that is just fascinating to see. Once they passed, they took the good wind and we had to choose between going north or south of our goal. I looked at the GRIBs -- which are not always reliable -- plotted, predicted, and postulated, and suggested we head dead down wind towards the south east. "In 24 hours we should have better winds, gybe, and head directly to our mark." I was right! In 23 hours, on the 26th, we gybed and are now reaching comfortably to the mark. Go me.

3. 150. As I "pen" this, it's 0331 UTC (that's 12:31 LLT (La Luna Time), and we have just 150 miles to go. Looks like we'll be anchored on the 28th. If the wind abates and we slow down, we'll anchor off of Marie Galant Island on the evening of the 28th, then head in to the harbor on the 29th. If the winds continue as they are supposed to do, we'll arrive at the harbor just around daylight and anchor there on the morning of the 28th. Either way, we only have one more night at sea after this one. The Endurance Crossing is nearly complete!

Last night in an effort to save the butane, I boiled water, took the pot off the stove and put pasta into it. Letting it sit, covered, in the sink while I made a simple tomato sauce. Now I know why you don't do that: the pasta cooked, but was very starchy. One of the women we met sailing in the Bahamas had owned her own small restaurant in Connecticut. Instead of cookbooks, she preferred a book about the science of cooking, which sounded a bit dry to me, but I bet she could have told me why one must cook pasta in boiling water. Now I know. Still we have enough butane for tea tomorrow and coffee on our last morning at sea. We win!

We are currently located at North 16 degrees 03.54 minutes, and West 58 degrees, 34.23 minutes, barrelling along at 5.5 knots (or 5.5 nautical miles per hour). I've learned a lot out here. Just keep getting smarter and smarter.

Still At Sea or What We Did on Our Atlantic Crossing

We are still creeping to Guadalupe. We have fewer than 400 miles to go. The winds are still lighter than predicted. We still have no refrigeration and have just pulled out the last butane can for the portable stove. Today I had the glorious task of cleaning out the freezer. We fed the fishes. If sharks start following us, we'll know why.

Frankly, this part of the sail is as boring as the previous paragraph. My biggest challenge is to plan meals with no oven, limited butane, and nothing left in the fridge or freezer. EW is deeply appreciative, and a good sport. Last year, while we were in St. Thomas, a sailing woman on one of my groups offered recipes. I quickly answered in the affirmative, thinking she had a bunch she would email to us. Instead, she had an older cruising cookbook she wanted to pass on and I was the first to respond. The book, written in the 1980's, is marvelous, with recipes offered by coastal cruisers, Caribbean and Mediterranean cruisers, and circumnavigators.

Back then, many boats went without refrigeration or an oven. There are lessons on canning meat (something I'll never attempt), and recipes for the small boat lifestyle, which is essentially what we are living with this galley. It's reminiscent of our coastal cruising days aboard "Sirius", a 26 foot sloop with an icebox and two burner alcohol stove. I'm channeling my much younger and less pampered self, and it's working. Last night we dined on tinned beans purchased in the Canaries, and homemade "hoedown" bread, made in a skillet from a recipe in the cookbook. The beans were in tomato sauce, with no molasses and I imagine these are the kind of beans folks in British novels have on toast for tea. If we compared them to Dad's or EW's home baked beans, these came up short, but if we accepted that they were a completely different kettle of fish (or pot of beans, as it were) then they weren't bad. Tonight I served a salad of black beans, corn, salsa, and onions, with the last bag of tortilla chips; lovingly, EW exclaimed "Wow!" when presented with this meal.

I have treats planned for Christmas day: A packaged Stolen, canned fruit, and coffee con leche for breakfast; and shrimp curry squash soup with crackers for dinner. (From a carton of soup, purchased in the Canaries, canned shrimp, and curry.) We have a prized can of mixed nuts for appetizers, and special chocolates for dessert. Clearly we aren't starving out here. I can see how friends of ours on "Bear" crossed the Pacific with their fridge/freezer turned off. I could do that, but prefer not to.

As of 1900 UTC on December 24th, we were located at North 16 degrees 25.96 minutes, and West 54 degrees 37.24 minutes. We expect to drop the hook on December 28. Can you say restaurant? I can.

Merry Christmas to all. I'm on watch from midnight to 0600 tonight and will keep an eye out for Santa and Rudolph.

Balls! or All Balled Up.

Two of my Dad's swear expressions were "Balls!" or the infamous "All balled up!". Of course, as a teenager of the 70's I thought I knew what he meant, but my eclectic education at UMO convinced me that I may have been wrong. According to "Maine Lingo" by John Gould, those two terms are credited to men who worked oxen and horse teams in Maine's winter woods, as my dad did. Both expressions refer to wet snow balling up the heavily laden sled, causing it to get "all balled up". When that happened, the appropriate curse was "Balls!" (In true Maine Lingo that would be expressed with a very hard "B" sound and nearly two syllables.)

Since this trip is "all balled up", I gave up and made sweets. Sometimes only chocolate will help. This morning I discovered Item Number 16 on the list of problems: the fridge system powered by the engine isn't working, either. When EW questioned my statement as he reclined in the off duty bunk, I easily proved my point by telling him the butter was melted. (Later in the morning we both remarked on my lack of rage at the discovery. In this case, he cold truthfully write in the log thusly: "0830. Bubs noted that the engine fridge unit isn't working, either."

Still, Balls!

We are sailing beautifully (though not as beautifully as "Nomad", the large private yacht that passed us this morning) and can fully expect to set the anchor on December 27th. We have plenty of canned food and won't starve, but things in the freezer are spoiling and things in the fridge will soon follow. It was time for sweets -- but I can't bake and do want to make sure the two and a half cans of camping butane last until we arrive. Hot tea is our only caffeine drink right now, it just takes too long to make coffee and the coffee pot doesn't sit well on the camping stove, making the process dangerous as well. So sweets. I needed sweets.

I melted a bit over a half of a small jar of Spanish peanut butter, added a good amount of honey, and mixed in 1 cup of raw oats, one cup of Spanish muesli, chopped walnuts, the last of the raisins, and about 3/4 cup of chocolate bits. I made balls, rolled them in sweetened coconut, and had a lovely sugar fix with my tea. Life is good at sea. Mostly. I do keep assuring EW that I don't hate this, but this trip is certainly not my favorite. Our "neighbors" for and aft of us (by hundreds or even a thousand miles) let me know that one boat has dealt with much worse weather than we, followed by having to repair a broken wind vane. The other boat has a persistent diesel leak and had to lower and mend a sail. This is the Atlantic Crossing Challenge. May every crew rise to the occasion, still like each other at the end, and sail again.

As of 12:36 UTC (shortly after noon) or 09:36 La Luna time, we were located at North 15 degrees 49.82 minutes and West 50 degrees 09.94 minutes. We are just 639 nautical miles from our goal (about the distance from Maine to Buffalo, but wetter), it's a warm sunny Caribbean day. (That's why the butter's melting.)

Merry Christmas to all! If you are traveling for the holidays, may your journey be safe and trouble free. If there are challenges - let loose with a hearty "Balls!" It's a clean cuss word. Really. The kids will love it. (I suggest a certain visiting aunt teach it to her darling curly-haired 2 year old niece. It'll be an "Auntie Mame" moment.)

It Was Noted In The Log

Careful readers may have surmised that this has not been a stress-free trip, and they would be correct. We've messed up and La Luna has messed up and there has been no "at least it happened here" moments since the alternator died just outside of the marina in Tenerife. We've had so many "Oh S#O*!" moments that I started a list. It now numbers 15. Don't ask.

Still, we try to keep both a sense of humor and a proper perspective. We are safe, we have plenty of food and water, and we are sailing to our goal. Just damn slowly. The diesel fuel wouldn't draim from storage to feed tank. No problem, EW has a small electric pump hooked to a fuel hose. The pump failed. Fortunately, a couple of days later he remembered where the spare part pump was and transferred the fuel. This was one of the easier problems. (There's more to the fuel story, but I'm not going there.)

When we were in Graciosa, I began obsessing over finding a full Disa butane tank for cooking. We had a partially used one (only a week or so) but I wanted to be safe rather than sorry on the crossing. (For those of you who missed it, Spain will not allow foreign butane/propane tanks to be filled. We had to buy one of theirs and rig up an adaptor for our system with help from Doug on S/V Hobnob.) When we detoured to Tenerife, the storm, the alternator, and my sister's illness caused me to forget my butane mission. You guessed it, we ran out of cooking gas two days ago. Fortunately Captain Spare Parts insisted we keep a small one burner butane camping stove and had stocked up on four or five small cans to fit it. We have two left. It's a bitch to use in any kind of sea motion as we must stand and hold the pot/pan for the full cooking time. No worries. It's getting plenty warm and I can make meals with canned veggie salads, and quickly cooked meat from the freezer.

Yesterday, I opened the freezer for the first time in two days to find it totally defrosted. You've heard of folks (particularly in books and movies) who throw things when they get angry? For the first time in my life I threw something, slamming a formerly frozen pack of mozzarella to the cabin sole and screaming bad words. Everything is defrosted. I think I also screamed like in Charlie Brown: "Arrrrgh!" Fortunately, we have a second system in that freezer that allows us to chill it down with the engine. Things won't freeze, but we will still have safe food for the rest of the trip.

That brings me to the log. I designed our log to suit our needs and it works great for us. Each page represents one 24 hour period and offers room for both general notes and a repair log. After EW went to sleep at midnight, I read the notes from his watch. "1800. Bubs noted the DC fridge has stopped and Freezer defrosted."

NOTED? Worse use of a verb. Ever. I did NOT "note". I screamed, I cursed, and I threw things.

I'm entitled.

And in case you think I'm the only crew member on board who is a bit chuffed -- the song lyrics EW was singing yesterday morning was "If they free me from this prison..." He can still make me laugh. Make a note of that.

The wind is building as promised to 10-14 knots, and is coming from a wonderful direction. If this lasts, we'll be in before New Year's Eve. As of 1334 UTC on December 20th, we are located at North 15 degrees 44.55 minutes and West 45 degrees, 50.33 minutes.

If you get this message and have the Sailmail address, forget the alphabet thing and drop us a line.

Slofter wly We Sail, Knot by Knot

So -- the Christmas winds that weren't died today and we are eeking along at 3 knots in 6 knots of winds from the East. It's that kind of passage. Meantime, our friends on Hobnob, who left Cape Verdes about 3 days after we turned West endured seas and winds so rough that they were under staysail alone for at least 2 days -- maybe more.

Such is the sailing life.

We have seen the occasional sea bird, and a number of flying fish. We've returned three of those to the sea - -one was still alive at the time -- and we hope that gives us better ocean mojo. As for neighbors. We haven't seen any boats for a couple of days. Two nights ago a larger sailboat was coming up on our port side, aiming right for us. They opted to gybe and cross our stern about a half mile back. We didn't talk -- I figured they were busy. I asked EW in the morning what we would have done if we had been going faster than a sailboat in front of us (not likely with our heavy boat and a partial jib). He said we would probably have tightened up a bit and passed to port. Gybing is work with just two people on board.

We are sleeping well, eating well, and drinking plenty of water and coffee and juice. We have a no alcohol policy under way. I'm looking forward to a bit of the bubbly when we get to Guadeloupe. Have some eggnog for me, someone!

As of 1737 UTC on December 18, we were located at North 16 degrees 05.87 minutes, West 43 degrees 19.85 minutes.

Downwind Sailing

It ain't what it's cracked up to be.


When we started out from Tenerife and had to go south, I bitched because EW had promised me an easy downwind sail like the one he had enjoyed on S/V Bear in 2008, and instead we sailed south almost to the Cape Verde Islands. (EW says he didn't promise -- he raised my expectations, but didn't promise. Sounded like a promise to me.)

Now we have wonderful trade winds, directly from the east and could easily lay our line to Guadeloupe. But man, is it noisy and bouncy and ugly going downwind in 15-20 knots in these seas. (By the way, EW stopped me from saying "knots per hour", evidently a knot is a nautical mile per hour so if someone - like me - says "5 knots per hour" it's as if someone were saying "5 miles per hour per hour". Who knew?)

Back to the task at hand -- sailing to Guadeloupe -- I've had trouble sleeping, which increased the bitch factor, and EW wisely decided to gybe the main and staysail and head off the wind, where we continue to move at 5.5-6.5 knots, just not exactly in the right direction. We are heading to Guyana...again. But I slept. Oh, I slept so well. La Luna loves to reach off the wind. We still bounce and roll a bit, and there is still some noise - sailing is not a silent endeavor - but this is so much more comfortable, and most of the more extreme rolls are to starboard, and therefore the motion is more predictable.

The down side is that it would take us nearly twice as long to gybe back and forth to Guadeloupe, so we have decided to gybe tomorrow, heading more north, until we reach the rhumb line when I'll put on my big girl panties, suck it up, and we'll head dead down wind to our mark. I have a fantasy that the waves abate a bit by then. Or maybe the wind will shift just a tad south of east. It's more likely that I'll learn to sleep in sloppy seas. At least I'll be fully rested before we make the last turn to Guadeloupe.

As of 1731 UTC on Tuesday (which is now 3:30 La Luna time) we were located at North 16 degrees 53.50 minutes and West 39 degrees 29.69 minutes.

High Noon on the Moon (That's La Luna to You)

As I start this post, it's 0845 UTC (quarter to nine in the morning), or 0345 (quarter to four in the morning) on the East Coast of the US on Sunday the 14th. We have not changed our clocks thus far and now a couple of hundred miles short of a pseudo half-way point, we find time to be relative.

The sky is light, but the sun has not yet risen. That means that In Real Life it's much earlier than almost nine in the morning here, but on La Luna the sun rises late. I wrote about this on the way to the Azores (See "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?"), when we decided to adjust our watches and clocks along the way.

This time, we have regular radio checks for the Atlantic Crossing Group at 2000 UTC (8:00 PM) and I just know if we try to adjust our ship's clock for where we are that we'll (I'll) start missing our report time. When EW wakes, I'm going to suggest that we just go with it as it is. We aren't eating any meal or sleeping at the times we would on shore regardless of which shore we were on. I'm making one meal a day, generally "lupper", we each get our own breakfast, and we have sandwich, canned meals, and leftovers for options for a third meal or snack. We sleep in shifts around our watches. This schedule has nothing to do with Real Life, but it works at sea.

We'll just have to make sure that we land in Guadeloupe in daylight, whatever time that is on the ship's clock. As for sleeping, I finally got 7 good hours in (5 and 2) within a 16 hour period. I feel rested, awake, alert, and am now writing more legible log entries. EW will be pleased about that. His writing is always legible. Must be that Catholic school education.

LATER THE SAME DAY. EW wants to change the clocks. (Of course.) He doesn't expect to have problems remembering the NET time. (Of course not.) He said if we didn't change time, the sun would rise later and later and we'd have "low noon" on La Luna. EW doesn't want "low noon". Make any other time jokes you wish. Beginning tomorrow we'll be losing an hour every few days in order to move our clocks back by 5 hours as we reach the Caribbean.

There will be post-its all over the boat telling me what time I need to do the net TODAY -- because it won't be the same time as when I did it the last time. I am so screwed, but EW will once again have "high noon".

So that whole email in alphabetical order didn't work. If you have our sailmail address we'd love to hear from you anytime. EW would especially love it if someone could tell him the Bills' scores for the past two Sundays. Go figure. He actually has the game schedule in his iPad and it beeps at game time on Sunday. Invariably he will say, "There's an alarm beeping." I now reply. "Bills Game," in a "Land Shark" voice.

As of 1700 UTC on Sunday December 14 we were located at North 17 degrees 47.47 minutes; West 34 degrees 40.98 minutes. On Monday, we will set our ship's clock back an hour at 11:00 UTC, making it UTC -1. And so it begins.

Starry, Starry Night

Tonight, we are sailing on the sea of our dreams. There is very little swell; we have between 10 and 12 knots of wind directly from the east (finally); sailing under reduced main, reduced jib, and staysail on a dark and starry night. The moon, bright but not full, won't make an appearance until after midnight, during EW's watch. I am sailing in the dark, the only way I can tell sea from sky is by the stars.

Our speed sometimes reaches 5 knots -- a meandering for a horse, or a jog for a runner --- at sea on a dark night it feels as though we are barrelling toward the unknown. I keep watch, checking for lights from other vessels in the distance, and checking the instruments below for AIS reception from vessels that are closer. Though I've heard first two large yachts and today two ships hail each other, we have not been within sight, radar, or AIS of an other vessel during my watch for days.

We are alone. In the dark. Under a starry starry night. This easy sail is soothing, strangely beautiful, and comforting during a time when comfort is needed. And while we are just two on La Luna, we know that we aren't alone. Here at sea, we talk daily with two other sailboats heading to the Caribbean. Back at home, we know that loving thoughts, hugs, and prayers have been lifted to us and for us and for my family.

We feel them all and are grateful.

Thank you.

OH! EW would like to inform all interested parties that we FINALLY had full sun today and that the solar panels put out 15 amps from their mounts low on the starboard and port rails. He was delighted. So was I, but I was also just happy to see the sun.

As of 2200 (10:00 PM) on Saturday the 13th, we were located at North 17 degrees 45.64 minutes, West 032 degrees 03.90 minutes.